Eating with type 2 diabetes can be complicated. But a little planning can make managing meals a lot easier.
Living with type 2 diabetes means traversing a daily minefield of tempting eating options. And I’m not only talking about ensuring you bring a crudités platter to your work party or becoming a master restaurant menu decoder.
It also involves the day-to-day reality that many of us live in households with others who don’t need to be as careful about what they eat.
I’ve found that the biggest impediment to managing my blood sugar through diet is convenience. In other words, when I’m hungry, I want something easy to make or grab.
While I always try to keep my home stocked with healthy food options, I live with my husband and 7-year-old son, who regularly keep peanut butter cups or cookies stashed in the pantry.
And when I’m hungry for a snack, a handful of Oreos is easier to grab than a balanced snack of carbs, fat, and protein. And let’s face it — it definitely sounds tastier than avocado toast.
The way around this is careful planning and food prep. Food prep ensures you always have what you need for grab-and-go convenience, and planning ensures you have substitutes on hand to answer any food cravings.
Here are five tips for meal prepping that have made my life with type 2 diabetes a little bit easier.
Fortunately, living with type 2 diabetes doesn’t have to mean forgoing your favorite foods. There are many excellent sources for diabetes-friendly recipes on the web.
When I find something my whole family enjoys, it goes in my recipe binder. I prefer to work from paper, as I often adapt recipes. But you can also use a platform like Pinterest to organize and store your finds.
I draw on this stash of family favorites whenever I’m meal planning. It makes life a whole lot easier to have meals we can all eat together, and my ready supply of recipes ensures I’m never left wondering what to make for dinner.
Meal planning is crucial for me. Knowing what to buy at the store means I always have ingredients on hand to make diabetes-friendly meals and snacks.
It also helps avoid runs through the drive-thru — our family’s first go-to when there’s “nothing in the fridge.” But fast-food joints rarely have diabetic-friendly options, so a trip to McDonald’s or Steak ‘n’ Shake guarantees a blood sugar spike for me.
Food prep ensures you always have what you need for grab-and-go convenience, and planning ensures you have substitutes on hand to answer any food cravings.
I use Google Keep on my smartphone to make a weekly list of meals and snacks. Then I use Our Groceries Shopping List to make my grocery list. There are also tons of other smartphone apps for menu planning and grocery shopping.
If you prefer to write things out by hand, you can find free menu-planning printables on the web from sources like Family Fresh Meals.
We all get tired at the end of the day, another factor that makes drive-thrus or delivery more appealing than cooking. But prepping some of the components of your weeknight meals in advance can make healthy eating a lot easier.
For example, I ensure we always have diabetes-friendly brown rice on hand by making a big batch at the start of the week.
I soak the rice on Sunday night. Then, come Monday morning, I rinse it and put it into our multicooker on the pressure cooker setting with some butter, salt, and chicken broth.
If I’m going to work that day, the rice stays warm in our multicooker. Better yet, I have a week’s worth of rice ready to go whenever I need it.
I portion it out in Pyrex containers and then put it in the fridge or freezer, depending on how soon I need the rice. To reheat it, I place a wet paper towel over the top and stick it in the microwave. It’s perfect every time.
You can do something similar with plenty of other meal and snack staples, too — whether that involves precutting fruits and vegetables to make them easier to grab for a snack, prepping sides or mains like tossed salads (sans dressing), or prepping omelet fixings.
In addition to prepping staples, you can make plenty of meals ahead of time and toss them in the freezer for busy weeknights — from soups and casseroles to stir-fries. If you go this route, pick a day to do all your meal prep, such as Sunday.
Know that some foods freeze better than others. Anything full of water, such as tomatoes, bell peppers, or zucchini, won’t freeze well. On the other hand, meats and anything filled with fat, such as cream-based soups and sauces, freeze excellently.
However, freezing water-loaded vegetables works fine if you’re planning on roasting or stir-frying them. Of course, they won’t be crisp when you thaw them, but you don’t need them to be anyway.
Prepping some of the components of your weeknight meals in advance can make healthy eating a lot easier.
Another tip: If you’re prepping a slow cooker dump meal, it’s OK to throw everything in one container, such as a gallon-size zip-top bag. So, go ahead and cut up your meat and veggies and pour the sauce over them before putting this type of meal in the freezer.
But if you’re planning a meal that requires several steps, such as a stir-fry where you need to cook the meat before adding the veggies and sauce, it’s better to bag each prepped ingredient separately.
Visit the Diabetes Food Hub from the American Diabetes Association for more tips and diabetes-friendly freezer meal ideas.
Prepping grab-and-go meals and diabetes-friendly snacks is the number one tip that helps me avoid temptation and manage my blood sugar.
Like most moms, I’m constantly on the go. Plus, I work two jobs as a teacher and a freelance writer. So, I rarely have time to sit and savor — much less cook — breakfasts, snacks, and lunches.
Worse, mornings are typically chaos in our house, so I’m constantly grabbing breakfast on my way out the door. There’s rarely time for a diabetes-friendly balanced plate of scrambled eggs with veggies and fruit.
Thus, without convenient options, I end up grabbing a high carb muffin from Starbucks on my commute. Though I need to eat breakfast to balance my blood sugar, this spikes it.
I often follow the same trick for lunches. For example, I prep fresh salads to eat all week by preportioning them in glass containers. I also individually portion dinner leftovers to heat and eat for lunch the next day.
And I make sure I always have easy, diabetic-friendly snacks and desserts on hand to deal with hunger, low blood sugar, or cravings. For example, keeping a stash of low carb, sugar-free brownies in the fridge or freezer staves off the desire to reach for my son’s Oreos.
Living with type 2 diabetes can turn feeding ourselves into a full-time job — from meal planning to shopping and cooking.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to make the task a little easier, so we can spend less time managing our condition and more time enjoying our lives.
Medically reviewed on January 31, 2023
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